Digital Safety Commissioner Bill 2017: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to establish an office of a Digital Safety Commissioner and to provide for its functions to ensure the oversight and regulation of procedures for removal, by digital service, undertakings of harmful digital communications; to provide for the creation of codes of practice for digital services undertakings; to establish an advisory committee to the Digital Safety Commissioner and to provide for related matters.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to introduce the Digital Safety Commissioner Bill, which I believe is a significant move towards promoting a positive and safe online culture for all. It builds on the work of Fiona O'Regan and the Law Reform Commission report on digital safety and harmful communications. I understand that consideration is being given to similar proposals by the Government. However, I am introducing this Bill with a view to moving the debate forward and encouraging the Government to deliver in respect of this matter.

The office of the digital safety commissioner would be a statutory body. It would be responsible for the promotion of digital safety for all, supporting and implementing measures to improve digital safety and advising the Government of the day on policies relating to digital safety. It is a new departure which would bring us up to date given the time in which we live and the risks experienced by users of the Internet, particularly children, and it would attempt to mitigate some of those risks. It would also be responsible for the promotion of a positive online experience, which should be emphasised. Crucially, it would be responsible for ensuring digital service providers, such as websites, social media platforms, apps and so forth, abide by minimum codes of practice and national digital safety standards.

Central to this would be take down mechanisms to remove harmful communications. This could be appealed to the commissioner if they are not removed. Failure to abide by the code of practice and national digital safety standards would see a code of compliance for the provider or platform revoked. This is about providing timely, quick and effective remedies so people can be confident that the website or platform they or members of their family are engaging with will deal with abusive material, harmful communications or material posted without consent. Many providers have good mechanisms, but some do not have any. Certificates of compliance will ensure that users and parents can distinguish and choose.

Online safety, online bullying - which is becoming ever more prevalent - and the posting of harmful materials are among the biggest child protection issues of this generation. The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, ISPCC, has been very enthusiastic about the potential of Bills such as this. There must be a cross-Government approach to ensure these issues can be dealt with, including actions such as this Bill, additional offences, education programmes and the promotion of good behaviour online to make the Internet a positive place for all. We are conscious of the tremendous benefits that online platforms can provide, so promoting active and positive online citizenship would be a central feature of the work of a digital safety commissioner.

We are also proposing the establishment of an advisory committee, 50% of which would be drawn from civil society, youth and children’s groups and which would include specific youth members. This would ensure that new developments, technologies, trends and platforms come to the attention of the commissioner quickly and that the office has the ability and scope to evolve and develop over time, as technology and online behaviour rapidly do. This Bill would be a significant step in improving the online experience of all and in giving people more confidence in their safety from abuse and harmful material. I look forward to discussing it on Second Stage.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.